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N.B.Needs Ballots For The Blind; Visually Impaired Voters Still Can't Cast

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the Times & Transcript, Moncton, April 13, 2006.

Advocates for New Brunswick's visually impaired hope steps are taken for the next provincial election so everyone has the same opportunity to cast a secret ballot. The constant speculation surrounding a spring election is drawing to light any existing shortcomings in the voting process.

The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer is supposed to provide braille overlays in each polling station around the province, so those who are visually impaired can vote in secret. But Duncan Williams, executive director of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in New Brunswick, said the reality in individual polling stations is quite different.

"That may be the theory but it hasn't been the practice," Williams said. When Williams last voted, he said he did not have access to either a large-print ballot or a braille ballot. And if there was a braille ballot in the polling station, the CNIB director said the volunteers weren't aware of its existence.

Williams did not want to criticize the volunteers, citing what may be a "communication gap" at the polling stations.

Electors who need assistance in voting, Williams said, should ask the polling station volunteers to see what alternatives are available.

Annise Hollies, the province's chief electoral officer, said her office tries to make sure everyone can vote privately.

"We don't have the large-print ballot. But we do have braille ballots for the visually impaired and that has been here since about 1998," Hollies said.

Along with braille ballots, visually impaired individuals can have a person assist them in marking the ballot if they wish.

The legislative assembly is debating amendments to the Elections Act. New Democratic Party Leader Allison Brewer said yesterday she was wondering why there weren't changes to ensure visually impaired New Brunswickers had the ability to vote in secret.

"It's time, we have the technology," Brewer said.

The braille overlays are placed on top of a regular ballot so the voter can read who the candidates are and then they are guided to mark the actual ballot. So when they deposit their vote, the ballot looks like every other one cast in that polling station, which upholds their privacy.

The CNIB director said the Braille ballots, when available, are a positive step but he still would like to see the elections office provide large-print overlays for voters.

"While it is great to have those (Braille overlays) out there when they are found and put in use, it is only a piece," Williams said. "We are still missing 90 percent of the people who could use the large print."

It is important to rectify voting problems for the visually impaired, Williams said, because more voters will need such assistance in the future.

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